I know a lot about music, songwriting, production, music theory, and so much more, but I just got a firm grasp on the world of DJing. It's like a completely separate thing from the rest of the music industry. And it's a very beautiful but sometimes a complex and foreign world to visit! Some terms have double meanings. Some terms never show up in the rest of the music industry at all. Some aren't even real words if you want to get technical.
You might know a bunch of general terminologies about music but be completely lost when it comes to DJ lingo just like I was. I was recently doing a lot of collaborations with DJs and couldn't understand a lot of what was being said around me. I did a deep dive into DJ culture and I'm here to help you out if you want to know a lot of the popular terms.
Do note that I'll only be including DJ-specific terms in my list. I'm not going to bore you with every musical term that a DJ could be referencing like "mp3" or "beat". We know what those are!
Anti-skating - A control that keeps the stylus (needle) on the turntable centered within the record's grooves.
Balancing Levels - Getting your music levels as loud as possible without peaking and distortion in the sound.
Battle Record - A 12” vinyl that has samples and loops often used for DJ scratching.
Beat Match - The process of making sure a song's tempo, speed, and pitch will match another song for a seamless transition.
Belt Drive - A turntable with a belt that uses a pulley system to rotate its platter. Very difficult to use and not for beginners.
Bitrate - The rate of information flow, and shown as kilobits per second (kbit/s). A higher bitrate in your MP3 or WAV file normally means a lower compression rate and higher sound quality.
Bootleg - A recording of a performance not officially released by the artist.
BPM - Beats Per Minute, used to measure the tempo of a song. Higher BPM means a faster song.
Break - Part of a song where you just hear percussion. It is often 4 or 8 bars long.
Cans - Another way to say headphones in the world of DJs.
Cartridge - The part that houses the stylus (needle) on your turntable.
Channel - The inputs on the controller's mixer. Turntablists/scratch artists mostly use 2-channel controllers, while more club/EDM DJs like to use 4-channel controllers.
Controller - Referring to USB Controllers, which are hardware units that use DJ Software.
Counterbalance - The weight mounted at the back of the turntable that is adjustable. This is also called counterweight.
Crab Scratching - A popular scratch technique where you are using your thumb and fingers to alternately raise and lower the fader.
Crossfader - A slide control on a mixer that allows you to fade in one channel while fading out another at the same time.
Cueing - Means to get a song ready. Can also mean finding the first beat of a song to use as a starting point or listening to the next song in your headphones while the club audience hears a different song.
Cut - To change from one song to another abruptly but in a good place without crossfading. Can also mean to lower volume.
DVS - Also known as a Digital Vinyl System. Has audio that is played back from a computer.
Deck - Another word for the turntable.
Direct Drive - The motor that turns the turntable.
Dynamic range - The difference between the loudest and most quiet part of a song.
Effects Unit - An electronic device that alters the sound of audio or an instrument. Also called an effects pedal.
EQ - Controls that allow you to change frequencies of sound on your sound mix. The higher controls are often called His, Treble, or Top. The middle controls are called the Mids. The lower controls are called the Bass or the Lows.
Fade - This means to turn your volume up or down on a song so that it can begin or end smoothly.
Filter - This is a type of FX that allows you to change the frequency of a sound.
Flightcase - A case used to hold all of your DJ equipment.
FX - FX is another way to say effects.
Gain - Gain is the ratio between the volume at the input and the volume at the output of an electrical circuit.
Galloping - This happens when the beats of two mixed tracks fall out of sync. This is also referred to as Tranwrecking.
Hamster Switch - A switch used to reverse the channels on a crossfader. Some DJs find this as an easy way for tricks and cool techniques.
Hard Swap - Quickly switching part of one track for another using EQ effects.
Headshell - The adaptor that is used to hold the cartridge in place on the tonearm of a turntable.
Hot - Another way to say loud.
Jog wheel - A type of knob, ring, wheel, or dial which allows the user to shuttle or jog through audio.
Juggle - A technique used to mix different song parts into a new creation.
Line - The specified strength of an audio signal used to transmit analog sound between audio components like TVs, MP3 players, and DVD players.
Mashup - A mix of two different songs together to create a new version of a song.
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Middle 8 - Part of a song that is noticeably different in dynamic range from the rest. Often the break of a song.
MIDI - A communication signal used by electronic musical instruments to broadcast information to each other. For example, you can have a MIDI piano or MIDI bass.
Mix - A sequence of tracks mixed together without any gaps or changes in tempo (BPM).
Mixer - The piece of equipment used to manipulate multiple audio signals.
Mixing - In DJing, mixing is combining two tunes when blending from one tune to another. In music production, mixing means is putting together separate track elements into a finished song.
Monitor - A speaker that plays back music without any delay.
Needle - The stylus that is found on a turntable.
Passive Monitor - Studio monitor speakers that don't have an active internal power source and would need an amplifier.
Phono Input - A set of input jacks located on the rear panel of a preamp, mixer, or amplifier, especially on early radio sets, to which a phonograph or turntable is attached.
Platter - The top section of a turntable. Also called a plate.
Pitch Lock - Changing the tempo of a song without having to change the pitch.
Promo - The advertised pre-release version of a song.
Re-edit - A version of a track produced by rearranging and/or removing parts of the original song.
Re-rub - A process that is very close to making an edit but also changes the mastering quality of the song.
RPM - Revolutions per minute. The rotational speed at which a vinyl record is played.
Scratching - A technique that is done by moving the disc back and forth with your hand to alter the music.
Scrubbing - A scratch technique where you move back and forward. Interchangeable with scratching. Also called scribbling.
Slipmat - A circular felt mat that sits between the vinyl record and the plate/platter to lessen friction between the two.
Sound Desk - A separate external variety of faders and controls for the audio signals being generated by instruments on a stage or in a studio.
Sound Manager - Another word for a sound engineer. They sometimes run the entire system while a sound engineer will run the desk.
Spinback - The act of spinning the disk backward without lifting the stylus for a cool effect.
Stab - A short sound used as a type of scratching.
Strobe - A light on the turntable that allows you to clearly see how the deck is spinning.
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Stutter - The act of using the scratching technique to replay a sound over and over again.
Stylus - The skinny part of a turntable arm that makes contact with the vinyl being played. Also called a needle.
Tag - A short voice-over sample that you play during any type of performance. Also called a drop.
Tear - A scratching technique where you pull and push a sound while altering the speed of the pull or push by hand.
Tip - The act of using just the tip to get used to how little you should move when scratching.
Timecode Discs - Allow you to control DJ software with turntables.
Throwing - Giving a disc a small push to reduce lag time as it speeds up. It's a necessity for beatmatching.
Tone Arm - A hollow metal tube with a counterweight to which the Cartridge is attached. Can be straight or S-shaped.
Tracking - The act of getting your stylus to match the groove patterns.
Trim - An alternative way to say gain.
VBR - Stands for variable bitrate, which means that the bitrate may change from one file segment to another depending on the richness of the encoded signal for a higher quality sound.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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